“The influx of a disease like COVID, it pulls the rug out from under you … It hits a community like ours particularly hard because folks are stretched pretty thin,” Waterbury Public Health Director Aisling McGuckin said. “I think [Waterbury]’s sort of a perfect storm of populations that are at risk or who may quickly become at risk if circumstances change.”
Within the last three weeks McGuckin said that the city has seen a “tremendous” influx of vaccinations as fears of the Delta variant grow.
“It’s hitting a little closer to home than it has up until this point,” McGuckin said. “Knowing people who are getting sick despite being vaccinated, knowing people who are getting sick who haven’t gotten vaccinated and getting sick very quickly and very intensely, I think that’s impressing on those who haven’t been vaccinated that maybe now’s the time.”
Since the start of the pandemic, Waterbury has reported more than 17,000 COVID cases and 400 deaths as of Aug. 8, according to the Waterbury DPH. An estimated 16% of the city’s population contracted the disease. Now, less than 51% of Waterbury’s population has received at least one vaccine dose.
The “Brass City” is the fifth-largest in the state, with a population just above 107,500, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The racial/ethnic makeup is 38% white, 37% Hispanic, 22% Black, 2% Asian and less than 1% Native American. The median household income is just above $42,000 a year. Twenty percent of Waterbury’s adults over age 25 never graduated from high school, and more than 23% of residents live in poverty.
McGuckin said that much of the city’s vaccination efforts have focused on targeting the most vulnerable populations. She said that partnerships with cultural centers and churches have strengthened communication and deepened trust within the community.
“We benefited from having existing partners upon which we could rely for those inroads into communities that are highest on the social vulnerability index. We’ve had partners at Madre Latina, the Hispanic Coalition, the Greater Waterbury Health Partnership, the Grace Baptist Church and others, who have supplied us with trusted messengers to get out into census tracts where we know that there are young people and people of color who are historically, and with COVID, disproportionately impacted by poor health outcomes,” McGuckin said.
These partnership efforts include door-to-door canvassing in hard-hit neighborhoods to provide education, information and free transportation to and from vaccination centers. McGuckin explained that the public health department placed vaccination clinics in locations that would generate a lot of foot traffic: within government buildings and next to popular shopping areas. The department also brought pop-up vaccination tents to fairs, festivals and other community events that attract young people.
“We’re making ourselves available in the community to ensure that [vaccinations] happen,” McGuckin said. “When people are ready and they are comfortable with the vaccine, we’re here and ready to help them get it and make it as easy as possible.”
“This is a collective responsibility moment in our history, and there’s not going to be many of these. But this is your chance to do your part as a citizen and protect children in your community who can’t get vaccinated, [and] protect immunocompromised folks in your community who can’t get vaccinated,” McGuckin said. “You have the opportunity to help people in that very tangible way, just by getting vaccinated yourself.”